Sitting Pretty: 9/11/2017

I love how Tuck Magazine publishes topical new political and occasional poems!
News that stays news. Now I can share this piece with you.

AFP photo

September 11, 2017

By

Penn Kemp

So Far Sitting Pretty

 

While Hurricane Harvey harasses Houston

While Earthquake 8.1 devastates Oaxaca

 

While Irma’s Eye widens over Florida Keys

and Trump remarks, “Just get out of its way”

 

While wildfires torch pine forests whole and

crossing continental divide, evacuate towns

 

While Trump’s toddler tantrums go nuclear

to defy Kim Jong-un’s asinine missile taunt

 

While race hatred rages in white supremacists

and America turns her tough back on Dreamers

 

While refugees capsize in unforgiving, fraught seas

While Britain’s Brexit divides ancient allegiances

 

While Buddhists slaughter Muslims in Myanmar

While women are executed in dishonorable killings

 

While nightmares confront war game apocalypse

and brinksmanship totters on the edge of Equinox…

*

Then tomatoes gleam scarlet in the green of harvest

and hummingbirds linger in sun before migrating

 

Caterpillar chrysalis becomes bright new Monarch,

folding and unfolding stiff wet wings for first flight

 

While September long shadows our yard in semi-annual

balance between light and dark. What can we maintain?

 

We have read about that perfect summer of 1914

before the dam burst in bloody floods of war

 

We recall an azure morning behind twin towers,

scorching flame brilliant on vertical pure white

 

We do not know recompense. We prepare equanimity

In a world out of control we are not without hope

 

Hope is left for last after all evils flee Pandora’s box

In calm arising before catastrophe, we sit and wait

 

Sitting ducks, perhaps, yet ducks with luck, imminent

ingenuity, feathers still unruffled by storm impending

 

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Fare Trade

Sustenance cover 2017

Sustenance: Writers from BC and Beyond on the Subject of Food. Rachel Rose, editor. Anvil Press Publishers, October, 2017. https://alllitup.ca/books/S/Sustenance#overview,

The anthology is launching October 22 in Vancouver! Wish I could be there but my poem will have to sustain:) http://writersfest.bc.ca/festival-events/sustenance-a-feast-of-voices/

Sustenance anthology 2017

Here’s my contribution to the feast:

“Fare Trade”

I would eat local food only were it not for temptation.
A green invitation of open avocado in emerald halves.
An alluring variety of mango hot to eye, cool to tongue.

The seduction of dark chocolate.
The slurped fulfilment in oyster.
The simple necessity of rice.

Otherwise, I would be content with my yard’s fall produce.
But having tasted the world’s fare, how to return unjaded
to simple pleasures that this ground offers?  Beans.

Corn.  Squash.  Corn.  Beans.  The three sisters thrive.

Yes, I will eat local food mostly.  Except for.   Except for…
Accept.  Chocolate.  No chicory compares to caf頡u lait.
Ole!  Import coffee; import tea!  Import taunt.

On to political rant: our food too cheap, our farmers ruined.

Our eyes closed, we rest easy, spoiled ripe fruit in the docks,
turning sleepy to sun-rotten.  Given so much, we reach for more

even when over full.  And poems break off as the lunch bell rings.

Penn Kemp
from Luminous Entrance: a sound opera for climate change action

“Fare Trade” is published in Barbaric Cultural Practice, Quattro Books.
http://quattrobooks.ca/books/barbaric-cultural-practice/

428744_10151426851871939_1663732949_n

Elegy for John Ashberry

For the Rowan Bard

 

Words in proximity to one another

take on another meaning…What you

hear at a given moment is a refraction

of what’s gone before or after.

 

Glorious clumps of crimson berries,

brilliant in long September light.

Sorbus domestica, mountain ash from

the prolific rose family.

 

Rowan is the tree of power, causing

life and magic to flower. Not to be

forgotten, set aside, or ignored.”

 

The Celtic Tree calendar’s second

month. His jewel a garnet and flower

cottage pink dianthus or carnation.

 

Quicken Tree, the high-strung race

horse called after a folk name for Rowan.

Along with Delight of the Eye, Quickbane,

 

Ran Tree, Sorb Apple, Thor’s Helper,

Whitty, Wicken-Tree, Wiggin, Wiggy,

Wiky, Wild Ash, Witchbane, Witchwood.

 

Ogham alphabet’s second consonant, Luis.

His planet Mercury, his element Fire,

clearing the mind to open inspiration.

 

John Ashbery, dead at ninety:

July 28, 1927— September 3, 2017.

Language the legacy he left.

 

Reading is a pleasure, but to finish reading,

to come to that blank space at the end,

is also a pleasure.

 

May his death have been such an ease

 

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and

cannot be.

 

By

Penn Kemp

 

Lines in italic by John Ashbery.

cf: http://www.thegoddesstree.com/trees/Rowan.htm

Published on http://tuckmagazine.com/2017/09/05/poetry-991/.

More of my poems are up on http://tuckmagazine.com/tag/penn-kemp/.

I’m so impressed at how quickly & professionally publishes topical poems! Thank you

 

Penn Kemp

Penn Kemp is an activist Canadian poet, playwright and editor.  Her latest works are two plays celebrating local hero and explorer, Teresa Harris, produced in 2017 and published by Playwrights Guild of Canada. Recent books include Barbaric Cultural Practice (quattrobooks.ca/books/barbaric-cultural-practice/) and two anthologies edited, Women and Multimedia and Performing Women (http://poets.ca/feministcaucus/livingarchives/). See www.pennkemp.weebly.com.

 

Poem for the partial eclipse of the sun

At the partial eclipse of the sun

for Ula

We looked down, put on the eclipse glasses and gazed

up at the fiery crescent behind an almost round of moon.

The air imperceptively less bright but imperturbable.

 

By interlacing both hands, you could see five crescents

between your fingers as well as in the shadows of trees.

I showed a woman in a burka the crescents: her symbol.

 

What dragon has nipped a mouthful of sun? What king

must fall? If only, Trump, if only, when shadows differ.

Penn Kemp

Eclipse crescents by Amanda

Partial Eclipse Crescents by Amanda Chalmers

August 21, 2017

http://tuckmagazine.com/2017/08/23/poetry-976/

Poem for the Magdalene

Recall

Purple spikes rampant now. Cliché bounds
garden gnomes. We drink somewhat musty

ginger tea. Second cups await, red roobos
with mint and lemon balm I’ve just plucked.

Magdalene might know this tonic, or others
similar. Her purple turban that paintings so

proudly display as her nearly royal emblem
might bob through the fields as she gathers.

Though she would have servants harvesting,
that fine curved hand not browned by sun.

Her name day conjures presence on waves
of prayer, an iconography of purple and red.

Similars, signature. Like calls to like out
of time. Speaking harmonies. Chords lift.

A decorum wealth bestows, lush richness
suggesting florid abundance, jars of unguent.

She is always depicted wrapped, self-contained

and rapt. Cups of tea cool by her side, steam
rising like plumage, like the coils of her turban.

Twenty-two is the master number in Hebrew,
a vibration that opens time with broad strokes

beyond the moment to more universal scope.
But butterfly bush flowers in her honour now.

Echinacea flourishes, blossom and root, for her
medicinal. Wise woman of herbs, of mystery.

Sing your secret through us, Lady. We are
listening. Then and now. Now and then when

we remember. When your name day reminds.

Penn Kemp
http://hammeredoutlitzine.blogspot.ca/2007/10/penn-kemp.html
Photo: Allan Briesmaster

Penn and Tree 1

London, Ontario

Thinking of this poem on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, April 26, 1986.
Painting by Jim Kemp.

Smog Alert

Throughout our listening areajimkemppaintingfigureblueskirtseatedbraque
light pollution. Evening haze

drifts down from some secret smelter
depending on which wind blows. Small

particulate matter fills the air, fills our lungs
with tiny lumps that hang there undetected
except we can no longer fully breathe.

Cosmic clouds descend upon us. Below
breath. Below thought. Below bellow.

Probability of precipitation. Mixed rain
and thunder showers. Severe weather

warning. War in heaven, warming
torrents into twisters. Forecast unforeseen.

The radio calls for showers.  Fog patches.
Clouds clog the mind, crowding thought.

Now calm come… clear of cloud…
I’m thinking stars. Or stars are thinking me.

Where are they? Beyond the veil, still
twinkling, emitting their own dust trails.

Sound/performance poet Penn Kemp lives in London, Ontario.  UWO has asked her to be writer-in-residence for 2009-2010.  Among her publications are more than twenty-five books of poetry and drama, ten CDs of Sound Opera and…

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Kate Roger’s Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Penn Poetry New West Barbaric

Reading Barbaric Cultural Practice at Poetry New West, BC

Book Review: Barbaric Cultural Practice by Penn Kemp

Quattro Books 2016; ISBN 978-1-988254-38-8

The title of Penn Kemp’s most recent poetry collection reflects her urgent activist response to government announcements she thought could undermine Canadian diversity.  As they campaigned to hold onto power in 2015, the Harper Conservatives vowed to create an RCMP tip line where Canadians could report suspected “barbaric cultural practices” such as honour killings and female genital mutilation. Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch said the hotline would allow “citizens and victims” to directly reach out to authorities because such, “practices have no place in Canadian society”[i]— but the effect was to demonize new Canadians and polarize society around identity politics.

In this latest collection, peripatetic poet, and author of more than 25 books, Penn Kemp, points out the “barbaric cultural practices” of Canada and the West:  proxy wars, poverty and pollution. Her poetic critiques engage the reader with wit and word play. As an ex-patriot Canadian poet based in Hong Kong where freedom is under threat, I could relate to Penn Kemp’s broad, ironic perspective in Barbaric Cultural Practice.

In “Arms and the Boy” (p.30),  the narrator watching war coverage falls  “through the scream as if to land/among proud and elegant peoples/divided by civil, uncivil arms.//Women and men cleaving, cleft, bereft./ Dispossessed of a West they thought they knew./Dis/oriented, where do they turn?”

The boy who survives the onslaught of smart bombs, “…cannot speak–/language lost though lies thrive.”

In ”Smog Alert” (p.26),  the air is gritty—chewable: “Clouds crowd the mind,  clogging thought.”

The city often “fills/our lungs with tiny lumps that hang there/”.

No matter the seriousness of their subject matter, the poems in this collection avoid despair. A poet’s sense of wonder is never far off. Penn Kemp plays with how the poem can come to us as reluctant visitation. In “Cogito Ergo Sum” (p.15),  Kemp jokes, “This is the poem and I/take no hand in it. I/want to write a comedy.//That’s rich. That’s fun/ny laughs the voice in/my head that keeps/right on talking the poem/down the tree and onto//the screen. “

In “Paraclete down the Street” (p.65) a “sudden poem lights/on (her) shoulder, a tameable parakeet…”.

Kemp is a jazz poet who often riffs on her subject with internal rhyme and alliteration. Reading this collection has made me want to pun! Even when she protests how computers distance us from poetry Penn Kemp is a-mused. In “Mind the Game” (p.19), she pauses and reflects that, “We are beyond the mouse.// My Spell Checker would change Cogito to Caught./For someone’s  Suggest salmon’s.”

In the poignant poem “Struck by Stroke” (p.58) the poet shows her emotional range. The narrator is gentle on the topic of love and ageing: “Those who give the brain a rest recover/quicker…His mind is air-brushed/to a whiter, more spacious landscape/reflected in such snowy waste outside.//So we sink into sweet reverie fireside,/unthinking, unburdened…”.

In “For the Trip” (p.82), the narrator offers her ageing mother, who is searching for a butterfly, a “beaded purse with its butterfly motif as substitute/more lasting than real…”.

As a lover of birds and wilderness I especially appreciate Kemp’s poems penned in praise of nature. They are as ominous as they are playful about the consequences of the Anthropocene. In “Bass on the Grass” (p.95) the narrator warns that “We have been fluid mercury/in a mess of water weed/swimming cross-current.//We know to elude the net, a web’s small intricacy.”

The narrator concludes, “We scry so little, under water or on this/unnatural resting place where up and down/dissolves. Long lines no longer connect us.”

In “Grazing the Face of Climate Change” (p.97), birds migrate and “Envy emulates flight,/lights desire, douses/doubt in fiercer certainty.”

Icarus is evoked in the same poem as warning about global warming, “Bright implausible wings dim/before a brighter sun, too close.” The narrator warns, “Reflect, refract, reflect/again and loss a gain.//Free to fail only/once and then no/longer. He arrives//dead last. Death lasts/for/ever.//No longer/boy but/myth.”

In Barbaric Cultural Practice Penn Kemp challenges us to reflect the way only she can. Trudeau may be at the helm, but Canada’s own Trump, henchmen and women are waiting in the wings. This collection remains relevant. In the final poem of the book, “Ongoing Cultural Practice” (p.108), Kemp advises those of us who love humanity and the natural world to “Bear down hard./The time is come.”

[i] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118

Reviewed by Kate Rogers